A respected courtesan in 17th century France, Ninon de l’Enclos (1620 – 1705) was generally admired for her style and manners. Eventually reaching legendary status, her wit and beauty were as renowned as her love affairs. This letter, a gentle reproach to one of her lovers, displays her wry intelligence.
Yes, Marquis, I will keep my word with you, and upon all occasions shall speak the truth, though I sometimes tell it at my own expense. I have more firmness of mind than perhaps you may imagine, and ’tis very probable that in the course of this correspondence, you will think I push this quality too far, even to severity. But then, please to remember that I have only the outside of a woman, and that my heart and mind are wholly masculine….
Shall I tell you what makes love so dangerous? ‘Tis the too high idea we are apt to form it. But to speak the truth, love, considered as passion, is merely a blind instinct, that we should rate accordingly. It is an appetite, which inclines us to one object, rather than another, without our being able to account for our taste. Considered as a bond of friendship, where reason presides, it is no longer a passion and loses the very name of love. It becomes esteem: which is indeed a very pleasing appetite, but too tranquil; and therefore incapable of rousing you from you present supineness.
If you madly trace the footsteps of our ancient heroes of romance, adopting their extravagant sentiments, you will soon experience, that such false chivalry metamorphoses this charming passion into a melancholy folly; nay, often a tragical one: a perfect frenzy! but divest it of all the borrowed pomp and opinion, and you will then perceive how much it will contribute both to your happiness and pleasure. Be assured that if either reason or knight errantry should be permitted to form the union of our hearts, love would become a state of apathy and madness.
The only way to avoid these extremes, is to pursue the course I pointed out to you. At present you have no occasion for any thing more than mere amusement, and believe me, you will not meet it except among women of the character I speak of. Your heart wants occupation; and they are framed to supply the void. At least, give my prescription a fair trial, and I will be answerable for the success.
I promised to reason with you, and I think I have kept my word. Farewell…
Tomorrow the Abbé Chateauneuf, and perhaps Molière are to be with me. We are to read over the Tartuffe together, in order to make some necessary alterations. Depend upon it, Marquis, that whoever denies the maxims I have here laid down, partakes a little of that character in his play.
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